Theme: Spiritual Vaccination
Readings: 2 Chron. 36:14-16, 19-23 / Ephesians 2:4-10/ John 3:14-21
4th Sunday of Lent
An issue that has caught the attention of the world since the outbreak of the CoViD-19 pandemic is the development of vaccines. Whereas some people have raised some concerns about the vaccines developed to mitigate or end the CoViD-19 pandemic, the fact is that the use of vaccines has helped mankind a lot. Most of us, since childhood, have been vaccinated several times – e.g., vaccination against Polio, Yellow Fever, Chicken Pox, Hepatitis, etc. But for such vaccinations, many of us would have been very sick, physically challenged or even dead by now. Fortunately, today, the vaccination against CoViD-19 is ongoing in many nations across the world.
Vaccines are made from the very virus that causes the disease (e.g., CoViD-19). In the traditional scientific method, the virus (e.g., coronavirus) is taken through a process by which it is weakened or killed, and then used to produce the vaccine. The body of the person who receives an injection of the vaccine then develops immunity against the disease (e.g., CoViD-19).
The production and use of vaccines could illustrate a story of the Old Testament which Jesus alludes to in today’s Gospel reading. The story is about Moses lifting a bronze serpent to save the lives of some Israelites who had been bitten by snakes as they journeyed towards the Promised Land (see Num. 21:4-9). As a vaccine is made up of the weakened or killed virus that causes a disease, so the motionless or harmless bronze serpent lifted by Moses became the vaccine by which the Israelites were vaccinated against the snake bites.
There is, however, a difference in the mode of transmitting the vaccines. Whereas for physical diseases, we normally receive the vaccination through injections, the Israelites received their “vaccine” against snake bites through faith in Yahweh God. They trusted that the God who once turned Moses’ rod (staff) into a serpent which swallowed the serpents of the magicians of Pharaoh had power over the venom of the snakes that had bitten them.
Beloved, the Israelites who were healed in Moses’ time were not the only people to receive God’s favour of spiritual vaccination. For the good news is that you and I can receive spiritual vaccination through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Praise the Lord!
The message of spiritual vaccination through Jesus’ death and resurrection could be discerned from a statement Jesus made in today’s gospel reading: “Just as Moses lifted the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that whoever believes might have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15).
Let us explain this further: according to St. Paul, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). That is, sin (which entered the world through Adam and Eve) is the cause of death. So, sin is like the coronavirus that causes death. Fortunately, however, Christ took the sin-virus and weakened its potency on the cross. Thus, the second reading affirms: “even when we were dead in sin, God made us alive through Christ” (Eph. 2:5). This is reaffirmed in Colossians: “You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins …. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; He canceled the unfavorable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13-14; GNT). In other words, the sin-virus was destroyed on the cross on which Christ was lifted.
Furthermore, as the Israelites, by beholding the bronze serpent, had faith in God, so also by faith in the crucified Jesus Christ, we are vaccinated with the vaccine of grace against the consequences of sin. Thus, the second reading reechoes: “by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8).
However, you may ask: if we have been vaccinated against suffering and death, why do we still suffer and die? Now, in the normal medical vaccination, the body’s immune system may take a while to adjust to the vaccine; sometimes some people even have reactions like fever, weakness, etc. Similarly, if we are suffering today, it is like an initial post-vaccination fever or weakness, which assures us that our souls are adjusting to the spiritual vaccination.
Beloved, our Lord Jesus, the Divine Physician, who vaccinates us through faith, can in no way err. So, every sickness or pain or suffering we experience in life is rather an assurance that our souls are adjusting well, and that our spiritual immune system is getting stronger and stronger.
Finally, therefore, I pray that every sickness or suffering you and I may experience would only serve to make our souls ever healthier for heaven, and that at death, we will come to the full realization that we had already been eternally immunized against the fires of hell! Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis